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ST. PAUL (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz had the legal authority to mandate face masks when he declared a public health emergency in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

Walz declared a peacetime emergency in March 2020 and mandated masking in most indoor public spaces in July 2020. The conservative Upper Midwest Law Center sued, challenging the mask requirement as unconstitutional. Walz lifted the mandate in May 2021, at which point the Court of Appeals declared the case moot.

Shoppers Hit Stores On Black Friday Amid Worsening Pandemic
(Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

But the Minnesota Supreme Court in February sent the case back to the appeals court to settle the key legal question behind the case: whether the the Minnesota Emergency Management Act of 1996 authorizes a governor to declare a peacetime emergency during a public health emergency such as the pandemic. The high court called it an “important issue of statewide significance.”

The appeals court rejected as “unreasonable” the plaintiffs' assertions that the coronavirus “most likely” originated from a laboratory leak, so that the resulting pandemic did not occur “naturally” and therefore was not an “act of nature” under the state law.

The appeals court used similar legal reasoning earlier this year when it rejected arguments by a woman who had been convicted of operating a wine bar and restaurant in Albert Lea in violation of the governor's pandemic orders.

Major Milestones From Beginning of COVID-19 Pandemic in Olmsted County, Minnesota

News and information about the virus were slowly making their way through Minnesota and the Rochester area during late February 2020. Mayo Clinic became aware of the virus in January because of a partnership it had with a Chinese firm. This gave Mayo a head start in developing its own test for the virus which it knew would be needed for its patients.

Scroll through the gallery to see the significant milestones from the first two months of the pandemic in Olmsted County, Minnesota.

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